TCM and Cancer Management
By Alex A. Kecskes
Managing cancer with TCM has gained popularity as some Western methods like chemotherapy have fallen out of favor. Chemotherapy uses extremely powerful drugs to attempt to kill cancer cells. While this controversial treatment may control some types of cancers and possibly prolong the lives of some patients, chemotherapy has an avalanche of negative side effects. Among these are nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, anemia, body aches, headaches, night sweats, stomach cramps and diarrhea, just to name a few.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has long held that many cancers can be managed with the right combination of acupuncture and herbs. To begin with, the most popular herbs are an important source of natural antioxidants. These are the compounds that help neutralize free radicals (atoms or groups of atoms that damage or kill cells). Some herbs are a better source of antioxidants than berries, fruits and vegetables. Issac Cohen, a doctor of Oriental medicine, and one of the leading authorities in the field of cancer treatment reported in the book Breast Cancer: Beyond Convention that several Chinese herbs show good anticancer activity against breast cancer.
Rosemary, for example, may detoxify substances that can initiate the breast-cancer process. It’s widely known that an imbalance of estrogen hormones in women can contribute to breast cancer. While conventional drugs like Tamoxifen help block the effects of estrogen, they can cause unpleasant side effects, including hot flushes, vaginal bleeding, headaches and nausea. Rosemary, on the other hand, offers a safe, natural alternative by stimulating liver enzymes, which inactivate estrogen hormones. Women should be warned, however, that rosemary affects menstrual cycles, so using this herb is ill advised during pregnancy. Also note that rosemary oil is highly potent and should not be directly ingested.
To help manage ovarian and breast cancer, one herb that may offer some benefit is pure oregano and extracted oil of oregano, which contains quercetin. Be sure to get oregano directly from the actual species of the plant, not the trace quantities found in most products. For colorectal, prostate and lung cancers, curcumin may have a preventive effect. Another beneficial herb is turmeric, derived from the stems of the root of a large-leafed plant widely grown in Asia. Animal studies reveal that curcumin may protect the liver, inhibit tumors, reduce inflammation, and fight some infections.
Still another popular herb that has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents is ginger. Some researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center believe that ginger not only kills cancer cells, but also prevents them from becoming resilient to chemotherapy. When scientists combined a solution of ginger powder and water with ovarian cancer cells, the cancer cells died from being in contact with the ginger.
For those undergoing chemotherapy, acupuncture can provide relief with such common side effects as hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive sweating. Acupuncture also offers several positive benefits for those facing cancer, including an enhanced sense of well-being, increased energy and, in some cases, even a stronger sex drive. Best of all, breast cancer survivors reap these benefits using drug-free therapy that's free of side effects. And these benefits last longer than many drugs often prescribed to treat night sweats.
Before attempting acupuncture or herbal therapy to treat or reduce the symptoms of any disease, always check with a primary care physician. If he or she advises that acupuncture or herbs may help, find a licensed TCM practitioner who is nationally certified through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org).